Sitting here in shady Westminster Hall, which dates back to 1097, nothing much seems to have changed. Outside, however, a few hundred yards across the road on a College Green bathed in blazing sunshine, assorted pundits and politicians have been milling around most of the day, all busily analysing an electoral landscape that seems to have changed utterly.
From my venerable vantage point, it would be easy to advise them that this Ukip thing will run its course, that it will peak next May in the European elections, after which politics as usual will re-assert itself. And part of me (maybe a big part of me) still wants to do that. That, after all, is what we’ve seen so many times before and—odds on—will see again this time.
And yet, and yet… For that to happen, the Conservative party will have to get a grip and stop doing what it seems to have spent the last two—maybe even ten—years doing. Going right back to William Hague and with only a brief let-up between 2005 and 2007 when Cameron first came in, they have steadily given the impression to anyone paying attention that deep down UKIP has got a point—that we really are ruled by Brussels’s diktats, that this crowded island really is full, that scroungers really are taking us all for a ride, that we really are taxed to the hilt, that we really are being strangled by red tape, that we really do live in a place where political correctness counts for more than common sense, and that our best years are probably behind us.
I can understand why they’ve done it. Some Tories genuinely agree with Ukip—it reminds them of the Conservative party they imagine they once belonged to. Others are simply frightened by the power of the press or else reason (understandably, given polls and focus groups) that its no-nonsense views are shared by lots of people—people whose votes the government isn’t likely to win on bread and butter issues like the economy or public services. Show those voters, the story goes, that it’s not only Ukip who are listening to their concerns and they’ll soon—or eventually—come flooding back. Meanwhile Labour ends up looking…